In the existence of reality [that] which natural science recognises after the earliest days is the finding of the life of plants; the vegetable kingdom, is the first dominion of life for in the oldest rocks has been discovered, that they are the outcome of the family of plants, which began to multiply on earth. The archipelagos of islands which are hoisted on the seas, called Korallen Inseln [sic; “coral islands”, in German] whose inhabitants are Polipen [”polyps”, in German] a species of living thing from inside of which a muddy substance spreads, which hardens into stone — and of which tens of thousands, live together in clumps, and like the plants of a field grow and multiply, and for all that they harden in the inky [mirks] like a rock. Only across their faces is seen the location of the mouth, and their sides [are seen] like delicate hands — moving this way and that — and these rocks are the ancient tombstones of the vegetable kingdom, “the mother of rocks”; and our eyes see with the help of the microscope, how in one moment are created from the leaf of a plant of the field placed on a plate with hot water poured over it, tens of thousands of living creatures, which are [called] infusoria (Infusorien), of different and marvellous descriptions. The little creatures tell their tale and prove that the vegetable kingdom is the mother of all living things — . And though it is agreed in science that the vegetable kingdom, is the most ancient and the earliest, for all that science has not succeeded to show and instruct [regarding] all the different types of species which belong to the family of plants according to their species in [all] their lands. With the discovery of the New World, an entire new family in the vegetable kingdom was discovered. Nature by itself raises a controlling hand over these families, it does not wait till man comes to be a “help meet” for it, but it gradually guides these who come out of its loins, transfers and leads family [after] family from [one] end of the world to [the other] end, transports them on the by-ways of the world, hands them over and delivers them with [the help of] a hand stretched out to do its bidding. [Translator’s note: the term used here for “help meet” is ezer ke-negdo, which is exactly the term used in Genesis 2, 20 for the future Eve who was formed from Adam's rib, and which is translated in the King James Bible as “help meet”]
And what are these stretched out [hands], happy to do its bidding? — [they are] the waves of the sea flowing and coursing ceaselessly in their courses (for the sea by itself does not flow, only the places [within it] called ocean currents (Meerestroeme) like the Gulf [Stream], which emerges from the place where South- and North-America meet, and makes its wondrous way up to the continent of Europe, and emerges [thence] to flow to the shores of West Africa, and returns to the place from which it originated — they carry on the arms of their waves, plants and trees to the ends of the earth. The flows of the sea also easily repair [lit., “heal”] the valleys [or “chasms”] of the earth, rendering them suitable and prepared to be sown in them the seeds of the living [plants]; they carry on the wings of their streams the remains of the most perfected [or “evolved”] plants to the stretches of the earth containing warmth (Waerme) and there they lay down the load they carry on the face of that earth so that after hundreds and thousands of years they may improve the earth and render it peaty (Torf-arten) [with] glowing embers and stony embers by their tens of thousands. This earth which was cold earlier changes gradually to a state of warmth, until as a result of this change, this transformation, and this passing of thousands of years, the earth is improved [to the point that it can] receive and take into its bosom the seeds of plants, [so that they may] lay down root and bring forth fruit like a plant [should] —
Even though the winds have blown the pollen of flowers and plants over thousands of “parsangs”, to fertilise other flowers blooming [literally, “arising”] at the ends of the earth — though the streams and rivers in the ocean have done their work more slowly and gradually, yet for hundreds of millions of years they have not ceased and will not cease to improve the earth like the lands of the north which never were suitable at all for working the soil.
Even this day the inhabitants of Iceland give their testimony to these travellers and passers-by ferried on the waves of the sea. Many fir roots (Fichtenstaemme), elm, cypress and remains of conifers (Nadelhoelzer) have been brought on the backs of sea-waves to these desolate places.
In the “New Land” (Novaya Zemlya) and Iceland the land has been covered with a multitude of trees, which the flowing of the currents [lit., “rivers”] have brought there [for] thousands of years, and now the land has been improved to a medium degree [literally, “state”], and in the fullness of days when the necessary warmth increases even fruit trees will be [capable of being] sown there.
Even the places lying in the Arctic Ocean, and the distant islands [near] the poles (Pole) [sic, in German] even they tell us of [or “inform us of”] signs and portents backwards from driftwood [literally, “eternal-travellers”] (Treibholz) [sic, in German] for since thousands of years ago they were laid [there] and travelled [there], and have been transformed like the substance which makes up [literally, “seals up”] this land, and the voyage of these trees and plants will not cease until the days when winter and summer, spring and autumn [lit., “cold and heat, sowing and harvest”] will come [there even] as in our inhabited lands.
Experience and examination [conducted with the help] of our senses have taught us sufficiently to recognise the handiwork of nature which proceeds slowly, and a thousand years are as one day in her eyes. We can easily grasp this from the number of years which passed by the thousands, before creation prepared fertilised land from which to bring forth bread.
About the period during which the vegetable kingdom was covered with a fog our Torah hints in the passage on creation, and speaks of the time when the vegetable kingdom did not yet exist upon the earth, and the land was not yet accustomed to bring forth seed, for [fierce] cold yet dominated [or “tyrannised”] with all its strength and the vapours of warmth which rise and combine into clouds bringing precipitation and bringing forth plants did not yet exist. This limitless time is called by the Torah by the word terem [literally, “before”] for in a vague term like this lies an enormous number [of years] of which there is no counting.
“And every plant of the field before [terem, in original] it was in the earth, and every herb of the field before [terem, again] it grew: for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and [there was] not a man to till the ground.” [Genesis, Chapter 2, verse 5]
If we look carefully into [lit., “observe well”] the passage on creation we shall recognise in the signs [which] it establishes for us in the order of improvement [or “evolution”] of man [in degrees] ever higher, and signals to us in writing, the earlier [stages] of the order of improvement, its degree [or “level”], in which we are at present in the state of improvement and perfection and in this passage (Genesis 2, 5) is completed the first suggestion at the time of the preparation and that is: Man [is] not. Indeed the negative rule implies the affirmative: after the “plant of the field was in the earth”, and the “herb of the field grew” and the Lord “caused it to rain upon the earth”, and “there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground”, and the ground was prepared, as in continuation is explained [or “clarified”] in the planting of the garden [of Eden], that nature by itself finished its handiwork of planting the trees and covering the soil [as it were] with a carpet, then began the period of the existence of living man upon the earth.
And so that it may strike root in the heart of the reader, the idea which stands at the opening of this passage, which in truth and innocence emerges from my heart, I said I shall copy here a small chapter, which I read after my having written this, in a new book which throws light upon the world of knowledge,5 and after its utterances throw light in your eyes regarding what I have previously said and you shall see marvels in the [Biblical] passage on creation. Are not thus its utterances which it presents at the head of the contents of the chapter: (Die Periode der Jetztwelt)
A great distance has nature travelled upon its long way until it reached the present world. On the steps which nature climbed one by one, its perfection acquired greater improvement. Therefore the earlier steps should not be thought of in our eyes as lacking perfection; they fulfilled and helped [attain] the ends of the forces of creation and the forces of nature which added life at all times while nature was being perfected. And on the day the creation of plants in the boundaries of the earth (Polargegende) was completed it was in relation to the ice-climate (Eisiges-klima) thus we can justifiably call the initial steps complete and perfect. One [thing] we said, [about] which we cannot lie, that this period in the order of creation during which the foot of man did not tread upon the ground, this period is awesome and marvellous to us owing to the magnitude of its stages. The most marvellous conditions must have emerged into action [or “must have prevailed”] before a place for the inhabitation of man had been prepared.
The plants are the hosts [of] a worthy place for [providing for] man a home (Heimat) and they prepare his food and his daily bread, [as they] since eternity have been food and sustenance for the beasts and the brutes of the earth; they cleansed the air of the early world of excess carbolic acid gas (Kohlensaeure) which filled the atmosphere as a result of excess chemical activity; they inhale and consume carbolic acid [gas] — which asphyxiates animal life — which wanders from place to place as a benefactor; they [the plants] convey as a result of their activity nitrogen (Stickstoff) into the atmosphere, which is contained in large quantities in ammonia, and they exerted the fullness of the strength of their arm in their battle, till they brought forth that which is valuable from that which is valueless to introduce on the equator and in the poles the different airs [or “gases”] until by their actions they succeeded in [bringing about a state in which] higher organisms [literally, “living things possessing improved organs”] (hoechstorganisiert) like the beast, and man could live in them. Before these conditions were fulfilled, red- and warm-blooded animals could not breathe the air and live, and accordingly man could not have been born on the land. And therefore the plant is unto man his natural mother as it were. As to how natural conditions became connected together one by one, and became composed into [something that would be] organically suited to this sublime end, we already proved, in our discussion of the creation, the period step by step from the vegetable kingdom up to the present time, we found that the handiwork of creation, which goes ahead slowly-slowly in the multiplicity of [those who are] born and in their changes, behaves according to the degree of perfection of the face of the land, and that the species (die Typen) in ancient days existed in reduced number, and in the latter days they multiplied in overflowing measure; and we also found that in the earliest days they were spread widely over the entire earth, and in the later [lit. “younger”] generation only in some regions found [a] home, and this is one of the marvels of nature, — although we may interpret this to ourselves [by saying] that this was due to the changes [that took place] in the atmosphere — withal it is a marvellous [thing] in our eyes. “Kohlensaeure ”: [the reference appears to be to carbon dioxide]
[Translator’s note: at the time this article was written, the Hebrew words for the scientific terms of biology, such as "species", "genus", etc., were not laid down officially, as they are today; and so the author seems to be trying to create his own terminology as he goes along]
In the place in which is found today, as in the land [of] Greenland, grass or plant which is no thicker than a finger, and its length no longer than two or three feet, in this place sprouted and grew primeval forests (Urwaelder) which in the size of their trunks did not equal the forests in places where milder [literally: “clearer” or “purer”] air blows (mildere Zonen) and whose remains to this day are found in collieries (Kohlenlager) and which by and large, [measure] two or three feet [in thickness] such primeval [tree] trunks.
The world of plants reached its abundance of richness of form and diversity [literally: “image and form”] at the time man emerged into being as he is at present. And only by this that known families (of plants) found an inhabitation and living place in a secure location, brought forth of their glory, and established the seal of their master-plan, in mountainous surroundings, in the showering of an abundance of light, and by means of clouds of the sky, and the other hosts of nature — upon the [coming into] being of man. There is no need to prove this activity of nature, and yet withal we should remember the saying [literally: “the decision”] of one of our great [men] Karl Ritter who says: The great impression which nature impresses with [a] stylus of sapphire on man alone, this impression shall also be engraved with a steel pen on the bodies of the lands in every place of their inhabitation, and jointly [lit., “as one”] the writing of nature is engraved on the soul and spirit of [that which] resides in the depths of the innermost heart, and also on that [which is] within and without in the surroundings, and that in all corners of the earth and in all the centuries, for ever and ever. The Arab who grazes [his] sheep and is for ever a nomad, in a desert land empty in most of its landscapes, who creates [images] at times in his imagination, which flies on the wings of freedom — the nature of the land of his birth sets his spirit on fire and prepare his body to run after and acquire and distribute booty, [even] he recognises the [goodness, favour and] benefit of the land [and thanks it] for these traits which it has bestowed upon him.
Even among the Hindus is believed the saying: “As [is] nature so [is] man”. He who sits on the banks of the Ganges will rejoice in the portion given unto him, will vaunt of his attainments in religion, will see the angels [lit., “sons of G-d”] rising towards him, giving voice from between the leaves, speaking to him from the summits of the flourishing trees, and chirping to his ears from the leaves, blossoms and flowers, even he will understand that from nature are given unto him all his capacities, nature makes the earth soft like a carpet before him, on the wide upholstery of which flourish families of plants and fruits, his animals and his beasts of the field in large number — and along the gentle wellsprings and rivers he grows with them together. A people which marvels at and is impressed by scenes of happiness or images of enjoyment, shall collapse and be subjugated under the yoke of their burden, and shall not be able to dominate them by its free spirit, such a people is an eternal slave to the voice of nature when it speaks. The nature of the earth [or, “of the land”] works in large [measure] to change everything according to its spirit and it changes man very much not only [with respect to] his food and drink and appearance but also [with respect to] the traits of his soul and his emotions, which are seen and discovered in his natural speech and the songs which emerge from his innermost heart, and as the changes [caused by] nature are seen in the lands, so they are seen in peoples. If we pass along from the Arab lands towards the west to the land of Lybia (Libien) which is a land empty of all sprout and plant all the way to the Great Atlas [mountains], and eastwards to the mighty waters of the Indus all the way to the Ganges, a land streaming with water and blessed with all manner of plants and fruits and refreshing trees from the inner land of India (hinter Indien) up to the large islands named the Sunda Islands (Sundainseln), in all these lands where the dominion of the land in the valleys, in the plains, on the mountains and on the hills is seen, so also is seen the change and the contrast in the peoples of these lands. And we shall recognise the traits of their souls from their different songs: the Songs of Ossian (die Ossianische Dichtung) whose foundations lie in the hills of Schotten [Scotland] testify to the natural conditions of the land of their birth, and they are different from the Canadian forest-songs (der Waldgesang d. Kanadiers [sic]); Ethiopian melodies from the rice fields, the Kamtschadli songs, the chants of fishermen from the sea islands, the melodies of the Laplanders, etc., etc. All these are voices which emerge from the deepest and innermost heart, utter the soul and spirit which lies in the heart of these peoples, and they show us that nature has distributed its gifts to them in [proper] order and they have returned to its bosom their thanks and their deeds. [sic; this word is written in Hebrew characters and I do not know what it means — Tr.]
From proofs such as these is seen clearly, that every element of creation and its higher and higher evolution, emerged from the world of plants and even the [great] advantage [possessed by human beings] of spirituality lies [in its foundation] in the bosom of plants and on the face of the land and its nature and in its atmosphere [literally, “in its air”], and according to its active force yet many more peoples shall rise up, and shall go from strength to strength: the foundations [or “principles”] of nature will themselves be the cause of their proceeding [lit., “going”].
And thus we may say that the world of plants is the mother of man twice over: first when it built for him a home to dwell in, and afterwards [when] it taught and trained him to evolve in general. Nature in the beginning prepared a place to dwell in, in the beginning it built cells (Zellen), the greatest and most important work of creation, for as a result of it exchange of matter [or “metabolism”] (Stoffwechsel) could take place. And the second work was to fill the cells necessary for animal life according to [the animals’] portion and individual [needs], and after it was all ready nature could give forth the command: Let there be light! The law was brought to light [thus]: the elements of the entire universe separated into the bodies of the world, the solid [inert] matter, the plant and the animal; and after the great law in nature fulfilled its aim and its perfection, appeared the most glorious creation in all of creation ... man!
The faithful reader who loves to keep an eye on [or “look into”] the roots of the holy scriptures, will look into individual [or “some”] texts and find that everything written in this chapter has been hinted at in the [Biblical] passage on creation: “the plant of the field”, “the herb of the field”, these are, in the language of the Torah, our world of plants, which ate and drank their fill from the wells of carbolic acid, washed [off] the nitrogen [lit. “the evil dews”] — the Stickstoff— and the earth used to drink [therefrom] except from above them (language of the Midrash), to the time of this preparation: before there was in the earth, before [plants] flourished, all for the world’s welfare (language of the Midrash) so that a dwelling place may be prepared for living creatures — as it were, anointed all for the enjoyment of the creation (Geschoepfe) (language of the Midrash) and the air was blended, and the pool of Stickstoff poured out in moderate measure, to saturate the different airs [or “atmospheres”] on the wide face of the land, and this in the language of the Torah is the “mist [that] went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground”.